We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Greenpeace claim a monumental win against the Filipino poor

The Observer is editorially independent from the Guardian, and sometimes it demonstrates that fact to good effect. Today’s edition included this article: “‘A catastrophe’: Greenpeace blocks planting of ‘lifesaving’ Golden Rice”.

Scientists have warned that a court decision to block the growing of the genetically modified (GM) crop golden rice in the Philippines could have catastrophic consequences. Tens of thousands of children could die in the wake of the ruling, they argue.

The Philippines had become the first country – in 2021 – to approve the commercial cultivation of golden rice, which was developed to combat vitamin-A deficiency, a major cause of disability and death among children in many parts of the world.

But campaigns by Greenpeace and local farmers last month persuaded the country’s court of appeal to overturn that approval and to revoke this. The groups had argued that golden rice had not been shown to be safe and the claim was backed by the court, a decision that was hailed as “a monumental win” by Greenpeace.

Samizdata quote of the day – you can buy a scientist as easily as a politician

But the Royal Society’s recent honours to some of the world’s most controversial scientific figures reveals the decline of institutional science into ideological blobbery.

Ben Pile. The Royal Society, the world’s oldest scientific academy, has honoured Anthony Fauci, and in doing so confirmed its role as the guardian, not of empirical discovery, but politicised institutional Science.

Samizdata quote of the day – the state is not your friend, NHS edition

That the NHS has been able to avoid reckoning with its own catastrophic failure owes a great deal to how it has become sanctified in modern Britain. To the fact that it is treated and used by our cultural and political establishment as something close to a state religion. We’re not meant to challenge it. We’re meant to worship it. We’re not meant to question it. We’re meant to give ‘thanks’ to it, as we did during the early stages of the Covid pandemic.

Tim Black

Samizdata quote of the day – we are so screwed

The Tories are delivering us trussed up and oven ready for full on, overt socialism/globalism/neo-fascism rather than the underhand stuff we’ve put up with for the last 12 years.

– Spectator commenter MaryR accurately summing up the UK’s future for the next few years (£)

Samizdata quote of the day – what a debate in Oxford tells us about the continuing rise of populism

And (Winston Marshall) pointed to some glaring hypocrisies within the elite class. Like the fact they simultaneously berate the populists while taking tens if not hundreds of millions in funding from global corporations, big pharma, and big tech. Like the fact they talk endlessly about the deeply troubling events of January 6th while simultaneously ignoring the violence of radical left activists and Antifa in places like Portland, Oregon.

Like the fact they warn endlessly about the anti-democratic ethos of populism while simultaneously using overly restrictive ‘hate laws’, their links with big tech and expanded taboos to denounce free speech elites don’t like as ‘hate’, ‘misinformation’, and ‘disinformation’.

Like the fact they routinely criticise Donald Trump for refusing to accept the outcome of the election in 2020 —an outcome he should have respected—while simultaneously ignoring how elite Democrats did the same thing in 2016, describing the election as “hijacked”, how the establishment in Britain refused to accept the legitimacy of the Brexit vote, and how elites in Brussels routinely force voters back to the ballot box to vote again at referendums when they delivered the ‘wrong’ result the first time around.

Matt Goodwin

Samizdata quote of the day – to the Class of 2024: you are all diseased

Without fail, at the end of the class a few students tell me that the content of the course was diametrically opposed to what they had been taught so far. Prior, they had class discussions about the exploitative nature of the market system and its inherent unfairness; the evil and greed of corporations; and the fight of exploited workers against oppressive capitalists.

I point out to them that these paradigms imply a zero-sum world in which wealth can only be created by taking it from others, whereas they live in the positive-sum world of markets, in which wealth is created by exchange. Markets have deposited a magic wand in their hands, which allows them to freeze moments in time, observe what is currently happening in foreign lands, and conjure loved ones for a face-to-face conversation out of thin air. Kings would have given half their kingdom for such a wand, but now anyone can have it for the low, low price of $69.99 per month. Or about five hours of student work. This is how we got wealthy.

Robert Parham

Samizdata quote of the day – AI ate my homework

The only way the jobs can go is if the machines are now doing the work formerly done by humans. Which means that we gain the same output without the human labour input. That’s an increase in the productivity of human labour – the main driver of increases in human wealth.

What fucking value destruction?

Tim Worstall

Don’t you know it’s an EMERGENCY?

“Scottish government to declare national housing emergency”, reports the BBC.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, sorry Humza Yousaf, sorry John Swinney wanted a turn at the podium.

Declaring an emergency is a signal to government that the current situation is not working and there needs to be intervention.

The councils cited issues ranging from pressure on homelessness services, rising property prices and high levels of temporary accommodation.

By declaring an emergency, the Scottish government is formally recognising the housing problem and calling for cuts to its capital budget to be reversed.

However, there are no practical effects that automatically happen due to a declaration being made.

The one declaration they will not make is the one that would have an effect; the one reversing the stupid thing they did that brought about this “emergency” in the first place.

As Kevin Davidson-Hall says in this article, “The Past and Present of Scottish Rent Controls”,

I have some news for the Scottish Government. “Bah! Humbug!” Rent controls simply do not work.

UK data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released on 17 April 2024 reveals the largest increase in average rents since 2015, was in Scotland. Rents which have had a cap since September 2022, have increased more than in any other country in the United Kingdom.

ONS figures show that during the year to March 2024, average monthly rents in Scotland went up by more than in England, which went up by 9.1%, while Scottish rents rose by 10.5% to £947pcm. This is proof enough for me that rent control in Scotland has had the opposite effect from what the Scottish Government said was intended.

The Argentine president and why I hope he succeeds

More and more mainstream journalists (maybe we need to retire the term “mainstream” as it begs many questions) are sitting up and taking notice of the Argentinian president, Javier Milei. His openly declared support for radical classical liberalism and “Austrian economics”, for thinkers such as Ludwig von Mises, FA Hayek and Milton Friedman are a breath of fresh air in these increasingly unpleasant, statist times. His package of reform moves, including slashes to the budgets of the Argentinian state, are inevitably attracting criticism and pushback.

This is to be expected. When Ludwig Erhard, the former West German economics minister, put the Deutschemark on a firm footing, ended price controls and cut forms of intervention, the UK occupying authorities, for example, thought he was nuts; when Poland pivoted sharply towards free enterprise in the early 90s, things got tough for a while as a lot of formerly concealed unemployment surfaced. The same happens in many other nations that adopt the “shock therapy” of moving off the morphine drip of cheap money. Imagine, if you will, the likely pain if Venezuela moves away from socialism; the UK had a tough time when Mrs Thatcher enacted reforms in the 1980s, and fashionable opinion thought she was mad and could not succeed.

It seems rather typical of this cycle, then, that Daily Telegraph economics writer Ambrose Evans-Pritchard argues that Argentina is engaged in an “extreme” form of Austrian economics, and argues that it is all going wrong. AEP is a Keyensian; he sometimes writes intelligently but a lot of his predictions are way off base. He’s predicted the crackup of the eurozone so many times that his credibility is shot on that issue. He’s all for Net Zero and the policies to make it happen. But there is more than a grudging respect for Milei here – AEP knows that Argentina’s statist, Peronist culture is awful and needs to change. And AEP does argue that maybe Milei ought to take a leaf out of Erhard’s book on the issue of the currency. Unfortunately, AEP is a full-on fiat currency guy, who presumably agrees with Keynes that gold is a relic, etc.

In any event, people are noticing Argentina now. Its currency and debt is more highly valued; thousands of civil servants have been fired, and Milei is pushing to end a lot of controls. He faces resistance, and may not succeed. But here he is, more than six months into power, and I hope he succeeds. A prosperous, liberal Argentina would be a refreshing contrast not just to the Argentina of many recent decades, but to the horrible regimes of other Latin American states. And who knows – it would be nice if the UK could improve relations with such a country, maybe work out something over the Falklands, and forge closer trade ties with a country that the UK helped to build a century ago.

Samizdata quote of the day – Dipshit: a form of the planner’s delusion

I was actually there when Boris (Yeltsin) freed food prices. Replacing that planned, understood, thing with the complexity – and the impossibility of understanding its complexity – of the market is exactly what filled the shops with food.

Now do you see the point here? The dipshittiness of the basic demand being made about AI? The lawyer is saying that unless we already understand it all we shouldn’t be using it. But the entire point of the use of these complex not-understood things is that we don’t, in fact, know how it all works. Therefore we use this miracle thing to work it out for us.

To say that we can’t use AI until we know what the result will be is the same as saying we’ve got to use economic planning because we don’t know what the market outcome will be. We’ve even that long experiment – the 20th Century – to tell us how that worked out. Those who didn’t use the not-understood complexity remained shit poor.

Tim Worstall

The protectionist ratchet effect – and lack of political anger about it

The recent decision by President Biden to slap tariffs on a range of Chinese imports, including electric vehicles, has gone through with relatively little political noise and pushback. There was a time a while ago when certain figures in the Republican Party and part of the mainstream media would have been alarmed by this, given how widely free trade was accepted as a default position, with caveats about protecting sectors deemed vital for security, or because of things such as blatant abuse of intellectual property. Nowadays, it appears that mercantilism, and special interest lobbying power that drives it, is as strong as ever.

The Wall Street Journal writes ($):

The way to defeat Beijing economically is by making America more competitive. This means playing to traditional strengths of innovation, low taxes and regulation, and trade alliances. Mr. Biden has done the opposite. His Administration has blocked critical mineral mining projects. It has attacked domestic fossil-fuel production and petrochemicals, which contributes to pharmaceutical production.

Of course, the question is who is being “defeated”, if at all, by hammering the economy of China? Will it be the Chinese Communist Party, which in many ways is more or less a sort of Mafia, or the regular Chinese people? Let’s not forget that tens of millions of Chinese citizens have been lifted to a standard of living that would have been a shock to those familiar with the terrible Mao-induced catastophes/crimes of the Great Leap Forward in the 50s and the Cultural Revolution of the mid-60s.

While I suppose that deliberately impoverishing China – which is what some people might want to see – is the goal, regardless of the human costs – I see it as right to pursue two broad courses – encourage prosperity around the world and resist the most egregious abuses. It is also a fact worth considering that it is not, in general, prosperous countries that attack other rich ones. It usually tends to be countries that are in decline for various reasons – often self-induced – that lash out against their real or presumed opponents. A China that wants to conquer Taiwan, for example, or mess with the West in various ways, is in my view motivated by a sort of nagging insecurity as much as anything else. China has done far more to harm itself by its clampdowns under Xi than anything that Biden, Trump or whoever is likely to do. And protectionism is, as I explain below, a very blunt instrument that causes widespread collateral damage and self-harm.

The newspaper notes that one bad policy begets another, as politicians try to offset the bad effects of their previous policy:

The Biden tariffs are a classic example of how bad industrial policy is compounded by another bad policy in the name of fixing the first mistake. Thus Mr. Biden wants to use tariffs to raise the price of EVs that he wants everyone to buy. It’s bananas.

It is. The long-term negative consequences of rising protectionism will be complacency, sloth, special pleading, shoddier products, and the rest. This may take years to manifest itself. It is not even as if the tariffs being imposed by the Biden administration are to be offset by large tax cuts domestically. In the late 19th Century, the various administrations after the US Civil War did impose tariffs, but domestic taxes were puny compared with what we have now.

In any event, arguments that protectionism “protects” seem to be as weak as they ever have been. And there are the downstream impacts to consider: by making imports of solar panels, cars, cooking oil or whatever more expensive, it increases costs not just to consumers, but also to intermediate manufacturers who use these things. Import tariffs on steel drive up the cost of everthing made with steel, to give one simple example.

There is also the corrupting effect that protectionism has, as explained by Phillip W Magness:

In economic terms, tariffs deliver a “rent” by transferring a portion of the consumer surplus from exchange to beneficiary producers who no longer face import competition. The collective action advantages of concentrated interest groups enable lobbying efforts to coalesce around tariff-benefitting industries, which then divert resources away from productive economic activities and into seeking favors through the political system. On net, the concentrated benefits received by politically savvy industries are dwarfed by the combination of deadweight losses on consumers and political losses due to rent-seeking to obtain more tariffs.

Magness also notes another myth about tariffs that modern-day protectionists like to lean on:

As Douglas Irwin has shown, the claimed correlations between late nineteenth-century American industrialization and protectionism are both exaggerated and spurious. Economic growth in sectors that did not face heavy import-competition—think of transportation, communication, and utilities—generally outpaced the tariff-beneficiaries of industrial manufacturing. The United States also had the unique advantage of a large, geographically diverse internal commercial base in this period. Nor were tariffs the unambiguous benefit to industry that Cass claims. They raised the prices on imported capital goods like heavy machinery, which likely impaired many of the same industries that benefited from tariffs on their own goods.

In any event, while they are different in many ways, it appears that both Mr Biden and Mr Trump are in agreement that tariffs are great. Whatever other qualities, or the lack thereof, may distinguish these men from each other and may persuade voters to jump one way or the other, or abstain, or just despair, it appears that on protectionism, we are back in an age as if Adam Smith and David Ricardo never existed.

Samizdata quote of the day – rationing is good for you, donchaknow?

Not surprisingly, take-up of smart meters has been far slower than governments have hoped. Nobody wants a device in their home whose only function will be to enable an energy company to charge them five quid for a shower before work. Yet to avoid public pushback, ministers since Miliband have falsely claimed that smart meters will help households ‘reduce bills’ and put the onus on energy retailers to implement the rollout – if they don’t show sufficient effort in enforcement of the Government’s policy, they can then be fined. Thus, the public standing of energy companies has diminished over the duration, fuelling a growing antagonism between customers and retailers, as smart meters and other policies, such as the destruction of coal-fired power stations, have caused power prices to triple since the early 2000s. Energy companies take much of the blame for Westminster’s policy failures.

Don’t misunderstand the point. This is not a defence of energy companies. Of course, companies like National Grid have their greedy eyes on the opportunities created for them by green dirigisme. But only a fool would expect them not to. And one thing that there is no scarcity of is fools in SW1A. Energy companies have been relatively candid, if one cares to look, whereas Energy and Environment Ministers, from Gummer, Yeo, and Huhne, to more ideological zombies such as Miliband and Davey, have promised that climate targets can be hit with no downsides. But whereas the targets are binding in law, the upsides they promise are not. Anyway, rationing is good for you, donchaknow?

– Ben Pile